Academic advancement |

Academic advancement

Christine Ina Casillas

Inside Vail Mountain School, when classes are in session, the construction outside may sound like a faint hum.

But from the windows looking out, the large cranes, the construction crew and dust from dirt and gravel are just part of an effort to increase the school’s size by demolishing the old site, rebuilding the Booth Falls Road school and installing a world-class, synthetic turf soccer field.

“We’re increasing the net size from 263 (students) and topping off at 320 when we’re done,” said Nancy Young of Vail Mountain School. “But really, we’re increasing the size of the school.”

Homesteader’s Cabin

Because of the renovations, Vail Mountain School had to relocate a piece of history to make room for the more futuristic building.

The school’s Homesteader’s Cabin, originally built in 1906 and home to Charles Baldauf and family, was relocated to the northwest corner of the property.

In the renovation of the cabin, the foundation was restored with stone and the building became more integrated with the campus. A kitchen and restrooms were added, and the building now houses the school administrative offices and provides a quiet, cozy place for meetings. It could turn into an ethics study classroom, Young said, but that decision hasn’t been made yet.

“The Homesteader’s Cabin was abandoned for a while, but we refurbished it and brought it up to code,” Young said. “It’ll be preserved for another 100 years.”

The current school building was built in 1979 for $348,000, said Peter Abuisi, headmaster of Vail Mountain School.

“It was a simple design, assuming the school would grow to 100 to 110 students,” Abuisi said. “But as time passed, the demand for the way we teach grew, as well.”

The school has come a long way, he said. Vail Mountain School was founded in 1962 with only seven students meeting in headmaster Allen Brown’s apartment over the Vail Delicatessen.

“At the time, the state board said there wouldn’t be enough students in the valley for an independent school,” Young said. “And over the years, it grew in tiny little ways.”

The school doubled the following year. The 14 students met in Vail founder Pete Seibert’s basement and Brown resigned to start a linen company. Abuisi has been the headmaster of the school for more than 20 years.

Intellectual discourse

“We’re analytically focused,” Abuisi said of the school’s academic philosophy. “We put a very heavy emphasis on intellectual discourse, and it works well for the students in preparation for college.”

The school tries to teach students to view the world in a different light, Abuisi said.

“Education, as it is today, is filled with technology,” he said. “We concluded that the best way to educate was to create a school that included technological infusion and a wish to get a thorough education.

“We’re trying to be a home for all things – education, sports, technology – a home for all environments in that vast space,” he said.

The school has space for every grade – kindergarten through 12th. The students pass each other in the halls at the same time, regardless of the grade level.

“We believe in K through 12, simultaneously,” he said.

The criteria for graduation is that seniors must be accepted to college, Young said.

Critical construction

But the school didn’t have the infrastructure for the way the college world expects its students to be educated, Abuisi said.

In the end, the $26 million school will be 92,000 square feet. It will be home to an all-around academic wing built around a common area.

The school will include art studios, performance theater studios, an athletic center and an auxiliary gym, along with some even simpler amenities.

“The school doesn’t have a lunch room now,” Young said. “The new school will have a lunch room.”

The school had a lunch room and a playroom, but they were converted to classrooms and computer rooms, Abuisi said.

Young said she’s mostly proud of the world-class soccer field.

“It’s a spectacular field for our own team, but also for other teams, as well,” Young said. “Soccer shapes character on the field.”

The field’s synthetic turf was hand-laid by the teachers at the school, she said.

The students and faculty will move into the new building next June. Then, the old site will be demolished, said Jaime Walker, director of marketing for Vail Mountain School.

“The new school will not only provide a social outlet for the students, but also more programs for them, as well,” Walker said.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

At a glance

Vail Mountain School renovations:

– State-of-the-art computer and science labs,

– Cutting-edge library and media center,

– 380-seat auditorium,

– Fine arts classrooms and an art gallery,

– Commons area and dining hall,

– On-site housing for teachers,

– World-class, synthetic-turf soccer field.

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